Corrected version: Story updated at 5:09 p.m. on July 8, 2014, to reflect the following change: Kevin Spitler graduated from Start High School in 1991, not 1971.
Kevin Spitler is Toledo’s homegrown hemp entrepreneur.
Mr. Spitler, 41, of Allegan, Mich., runs the Toledo Hemp Center. The small, white-walled Sylvania Avenue storefront sells everything from soaps and sprays to vapor pens and chewing gum, but all the products are rich in cannabidiol, or CBD — a chemical found in industrial hemp.
Everything’s legal, 100 percent. CBD can be derived from hemp or marijuana, but Food and Drug Administration regulations allow only the former. In practice, that means anyone over 18 can come buy a chocolate-hemp cake pop (with sprinkles, no less) from the big glass jar on the store counter.
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Most customers are older folks, Mr. Spitler said. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the molecule that gets recreational pot smokers “stoned” — CBD is associated with physical effects such as pain relief and muscle relaxation.
Those health benefits are what center volunteer Linda Turvey swears by. CBD has helped her weather multiple ailments, she said, pointing to scars on her ankles and back. And the products have been helpful to her mother, a Parkinson’s patient.
“I’m very grateful to do things naturally and be much healthier,” Ms. Turvey said.
Mr. Spitler’s interest in CBD is personal too. Born in Toledo, he graduated from Start High School in 1991. While working in a factory 10 years ago, he suffered an electrical shock, the effects of which he said cannabis helped him overcome. Following the accident, he left Ohio for Michigan for its medical marijuana program.
His mother, back home and sick from pancreatic cancer, was another medical marijuana user. Mr. Spitler brought her cannabis products from Michigan until her death in October. It was illegal, he said, but it was also his mother.
The two experiences motivated Mr. Spitler to enter the business full-time.
“There’s a lot of families out there that don’t have a Kevin,” he said.
Mr. Spitler opened the Med Joint Community Compassion Center, a medical marijuana dispensary near Kalamazoo, in 2011. But its doors closed two years later when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against patient-to-patient cannabis sales. He keeps the cards he used to indicate the types of marijuana he sold — “Blue Gum,” “Sweet Island,” “Vanilla Kush” — tucked away in his new hemp center office.
The Toledo Hemp Center at 1419 W. Sylvania Ave. isa partnership between Mr. Spitler and a younger brother, opened in November, 2013. Mr. Spitler estimates its current customer base is about 300 people.
But his ambitions extend beyond that — he said he plans on “creating an industry” in Toledo, where he soon hopes to return as a resident. His goals include partnering with local universities to grow hemp within Ohio, taking advantage of relaxed provisions under the latest farm bill. And he is involved with pro-pot activism across the state, sitting on the board of the Ohio Rights Group and hosting fund-raisers to benefit the northwest Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Clipboards about both groups sit on the counter, next to the cake pops.
For now though, Mr. Spitler is focused on a legal buzz, maintaining hemp and CBD can inspire a broader shift in how we approach our health.
“People are realizing you don’t have to take a pill every time,” he said.